Trashing Chetan Bhagat's One Indian Girl while lauding Pink for feminism is unfair
Caution: This piece contains spoilers
If you’ve made your mind up about it, then Chetan Bhagat’s One Indian Girl is an easy book to trash.
For instance: “Why can’t women get a wife,” asks Bhagat’s protagonist Radhika Mehta, at one point in his new novel.
The context? A polite, thoughtful air-hostess has given Radhika her undivided attention in service, right up to tucking her in to sleep. Radhika is impressed with her dedicated service, and wonders why she can’t experience that all the time. Now, from a feminist perspective, there will be broadly two kinds of reactions to this sort of line.
Either: ‘Why does someone who takes care of you and serves you automatically become a ‘wife’?’
Or: ‘Aah, yes. Women are underappreciated. They deserve to be treated better.’
There are some who’ll cringe for sure, but there are also others who will identify with and appreciate that line. The target audience for One Indian Girl is very clearly the latter – those who agree that gender equality is important, but are on some level yet to fully understand just how deep patriarchal thought is entrenched in our society.
It caters to those people who are likely disagree that the term ‘feminism’ is more important and valid than ‘humanism’. (On a side note, yes, it is. Just like how #BlackLivesMatter is more valid than #AllLivesMatter. It is the starting point of the argument, but somehow, it’s still to sink in.)
The book arrives at an interesting time, because of the larger topical debate about gender equality in general, and because it comes closely after that pop-culture phenomenon called Pink. Yes, the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Pink had a far stronger understanding of gender politics than One Indian Girl does, but the two are targeted at (and will be appreciated by) a similar set of people; a set that is very clearly in the majority.
Pink took on every kind of gender stereotype in the book – women who enjoy their alcohol and party often are ‘sluts’; girls from the North-East are ‘easy’; if a woman gets comfortable and open with a man then she’s giving ‘signals’; women are not allowed to change their mind once they’ve given even a modicum of consent; a sex-worker is not allowed to have consent at all; the works. And it packaged all of this into an entertaining thriller-cum-courtroom drama.
One Indian Girl touches upon all the right stereotypes too. It talks about how people assume that a high-flying career woman cannot be or may not even want to be a mother; it brings in how body-image issues can be so detrimental to someone’s confidence; or how we’re quick to assume that, if a girl is unmarried and making a lot of money, there must be something wrong with her.
In essence, what Pink does in a dark, thriller format, One Indian Girl does in a frothy, melodramatic manner.
The book has so many plot twists and attempts to battle so many generalisations and social taboos, that there’s most certainly a (blockbuster?) film brewing in there. (Radhika even undergoes a Naina Talwar-ish transformation from ‘nerd’ to ‘hot’. Remember Deepika Padukone in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani?)
The fact remains that for a regressive society like ours, One Indian Girl is still a step in the right direction, because it does debunk a lot of value judgements that we tend to have. And it is done in a breezy, palatable manner that will appeal to those that it targets.
From a larger perspective, yes, the book has its problems. In keeping the arguments at the base-level, the book misses out on the nuances of the debate.
For instance, while you’ll always support Radhika, the ‘hot’, uber-successful, independent girl who just wants to live her life, it may not change your mind about someone who isn’t like Radhika's character at all — someone who is broke (and can't afford a 1 crore wedding at age 24), not conventionally ‘attractive’ and indulges in far more ‘immoral’ activities than just experimenting occasionally with marijuana.
But that’s a larger debate that wouldn’t be possible when something is clearly aimed at a very broad audience. The point here is that lauding Pink while trashing One Indian Girl amounts to hypocrisy.
They may be different in form and feel, but their intent is the same, and their success can only mean a slightly more evolved, receptive audience to the larger, more complex debate on feminism.
However, if you’re up for some breezy, kitschy mansplaining, One Indian Girl could be an interesting exercise. Better yet, you could just wait for the movie.